A ham is said to be honey cured when honey plays a significant role in the mixture of ingredients used in the curing solution. Honey cured ham is a highly popular meat because of the distinct honey flavor, and it can be found sliced and whole in many delis. When choosing a ham, think about how you intend to use it. Sliced smoked honey cured ham is highly useful for sandwiches and meat platters, for example, while a whole ham can be roasted and served at a dinner party. In all cases, the meat should not have any mold or discoloration, and if it is fully cooked through smoking, you should ask to taste it.
A ham is the thigh or buttock of an animal. It has come to be used specifically to refer to pigs. In some countries, anything labeled a “ham” comes from a pig, while products made from other animals must include a clarifying prefix, as is the case with turkey ham, for example. The thick thighs of pigs have been used as a food source for centuries. The meat can easily be preserved through curing, and a number of curing techniques have been developed in various countries over the centuries.
Meat curing breaks down into two categories: wet and dry curing. A honey cured ham is wet cured, meaning that the ham is soaked in a brine solution for a set period of time. The tangy flavor of the salty brine is offset with the addition of honey. As the ham soaks, it absorbs the brine, killing potentially harmful bacteria and being colonized by good bacteria. Wet curing is essentially fermentation, and the curing process creates a distinctive flavor as well as preserving the meat.
After being wet cured, most honey cured ham is smoked. The smoking process further preserves the meat, which can be eaten as is or slowly roasted with other ingredients. Honey cured ham is also available in an unsmoked form, which is much less shelf stable. Unsmoked hams can be found for sale at the grocery store, especially around Christmas, as ham is served on some Christmas tables. Many butchers and grocery stores encourage consumers to order special meats ahead of time, in order to ensure that a ham will be set aside.
Some countries have labeling laws which dictate which foods can be considered “honey cured ham.” As a general rule, honey must make up at least 50% of the sweetening in such a ham. Beyond that, flavorings can be adjusted by individual butchers, and the flavor can be further altered or enhanced with specific woods during the smoking process.